It took a long time for me to get confident when shooting on the streets. Now, as I embark into the world of portraiture, I feel like I’m starting all over again. New worlds, different approaches, dealing with many personalities; all of this is putting me out of my comfort zone, and I love it! So, as I move on this creative journey, I’m taking you with me, sharing with you what my experience has been like so far.
Allow me to start with a little rant (really little, I promise). People who do not turn up to photo shoots or cancel last minute with lame excuses frustrate the life out of me.
Okay, that’s better. Moving on.
Street Portraits Vs Photo Shoots
I’ve written on the topic of street portraits before. In short, you find an interesting subject on the street, quickly take their photo (two to three frames max) and move on. I like this approach because it’s spontaneous, a good story for them to tell, and some great images can come from it. Because the process is so fast, people don’t have time to get into their own head and can be rather relaxed when in front of the camera.
With a photo shoot that has been pre-planned, my experience has been a little different. Some of the shoots are arranged weeks in advance. There’s a conversation, a fixed location, and often the “I’ve never done anything like this before” statement. It’s clear some people have been building up anxiety within their mind, which is natural. How should they act? What should they wear? Does their hair and makeup look good?
By the time they arrive to shoot they’re a barrel of nerves and need my help settling them down. Of course, I have no problem with this. I’ve just had to adapt my approach and be a lot more gentle with people, something I don’t necessarily need to be when shooting on the streets.
I should note, that I’m not working with models. The people I’ve done shoots with are normal everyday people who would like a nice portrait to hang on their wall (or more realistically, have as their profile picture. When do people print in today’s world!?).
Finding My Style and Approach
Influenced by my desire to capture humanity in its full authenticity, there are some styles I will not do. I have no interest in creating what I would describe as soft-core porn. I’m not a prude, but I do think there’s a culture in that sub-genre that’s really unhealthy – i.e. middle-aged man wanting to photograph a 21-year-old woman naked in his house, free of charge – all for the art. Maybe that’s a post for a different time.
In terms of my approach, I try not to do too much posing. Rather, I prefer to tell my subjects to carry themselves how they feel most comfortable. Otherwise, I think images can look forced and don’t make for good photography.
Being a people person, I’m very conversational throughout the shoot. I like to give my subject the opportunity to show me who they really are. Sometimes getting personal, as I feel this brings out emotions that can be displayed through the photograph.
Here is one of the more heartwarming dialogues I had with a subject (to protect their identity, their portrait has not been included in this article).
DG: “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in life at this moment?”
Subject: “I’m gay and you’re the only person I’ve ever told.”
Maybe my style is phototherapy?
Will You Use Photoshop to Make me Look Better?
In short; no. Naturally, I will edit images to give them more life. But when it comes to nipping and tucking, smoothing out your face, removing your spots or whitening your teeth, I’m not your guy.
I know the conversation on the impact fake beauty and Photoshop is having on society is not a new one, but here’s my two pence worth.
I don’t feel comfortable giving someone an unrealistic image of who they are. To me, it’s like telling them they’re not beautiful. Agreeing to make changes to the way they look is only reinforcing the insecurities they have. That’s not healthy and, for me at least, not ethical.
Instead, I try to show them how they can be beautiful, confident, sexy, or whatever they want to be, just by being themselves. Trying to build confidence through a lie will only come crashing down. Let’s try lift each other up with the truth.
A great example of this, and someone who I’m trying to learn from, is photographer Jen Rozenbaum. Jen is doing some great work with Shamelessly Feminine. You can watch a recent interview I did with her here.
I’m Infatuated with Photography Again
The beginning of any relationship is thrilling. The drug of infatuation takes over and we feel an amazing sense of excitement take hold of us. It was the same with street photography. Remembering the time I first explored the streets, looked at photo books and made photos. As the cliche goes, “it was the best thing to ever happen to me”.
Over time that infatuation turned into a deep, sometimes painful, unconditional love. No matter what, good or bad, I will always be with street photography and it will always be with me.
Now photography’s very own cupid is waving his wand again. This time he is hooking me up with portraiture – I’ve fallen head over heels. I’m enjoying photography, I’m excited by it.
Who knows how long this relationship will last. It could just be a whirlwind romance, never destined to become something meaningful. Or maybe portraiture, street, and myself could enter a long, loving poly-amorous relationship? Or maybe I could just drop the metaphor and finish with this…
I’m really happy with photography right now.